The number one predictor of our happiness is the quality time we spend with people we care about and who care about us. As humans, we’re wired for social connection, and science suggests that our close relationships are hugely beneficial to our emotional and physical well-being. Daniel Gilbert, a happiness expert and Harvard professor of psychology, explains it like this: “We’re happy when we have family, we’re happy when we have friends, and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.”
While these connections are paramount to our well-being, simply having them isn’t enough. We can greatly benefit from further cultivating and supporting our relationships, and there are several practices we can adopt to do that:
- Add quality to our gratitude by being specific about how another’s actions helped us or made us feel good
- Listen with our full attention
- Respond in ways that focus on the positive
- Bring kindness and empathy into our conversations and interactions
- Allow space for forgiveness
The exercises below aim to help you increase your awareness and demonstrate your true interest, care and attention in your relationships.
Active Listening Exercise
In addition to more information about the ways we can strengthen our relationships, the accompanying video (above) includes an exercise for “active listening,” which involves bringing your full attention to the present moment and focusing exclusively on what is being said by the other person, as well as looking the speaker in the eye. For additional tips on becoming a more mindful listener, check out the article, “Are You Really Listening, or Just Waiting to Talk?”
Social Connections: Writing Prompts
Writing is a practice that can help us bring clarity to our thoughts and feelings, find meaning in our experiences and gain perspective. Set a timer for between 10 and 20 minutes, put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and write in response to one or both of the prompts below. When you’re finished writing, look over what you’ve written or wait a few hours and then give it a read. How did it feel to write down your thoughts? Did it bring any new insight?
- Write about a relationship you’d like to improve and what steps you will take to do so.
- Write about an act of kindness you did for another person in the last year. How did it make you feel?
Caren Osten is a certified positive psychology coach and writer. She works with individuals and groups who seek to cultivate greater positivity, clarity and calm as they navigate life’s daily stresses, challenges and shifts. Osten leads workshops and speaks publicly, sharing the benefits, practices and science of optimism, self-compassion, mindfulness and resilience. A contributor to The New York Times, PsychologyToday.com, Mindful and other publications and websites, Osten writes about health, well-being, travel and education. Learn more about her work at www.carenosten.com and find her @carenosten on Twitter and Instagram.